Social, environmental and economic impacts
The disposal of mobile electronic devices in Australia is a problem that has been largely underestimated by the industry and regulatory bodies. For example already over 70 million electronic products have been sold in Australia, and another 18 million new ones are sold every year. The rapid development of new technology and the nature of industries like mobile phones and method of selling contracts with new handsets, encourage regular upgrades and replacements, have led to the average life expectancy of a mobile phone being only 18-24 months. This represents a significant toxic waste legacy that is increasing at an alarming rate.
Mobile electronic products and their accessories contain concentrations of a range of hazardous substances including toxic heavy metals, brominated flame retardants (BFRs), perfluro-octanoic acid (PFOA) and other metals such as cadmium, lead, nickel, mercury, manganese, lithium, zinc, arsenic etc. They also contain non-renewable resources such as gold, copper and plastic. These heavy metals are persistent and bioaccumulative, that is, they do not degrade in the environment, and instead accumulate in the fatty tissue of organisms. When a mobile phone is disposed to landfill and begins to decompose, a poisonous liquid is formed that can seep into groundwater and then into rivers and streams.
Once in the environment, the substances accumulate in the food chain, and are associated with a range of adverse human health effects, as seen in the table below, including damage to the nervous system, reproductive and developmental problems, cancer and genetic impacts. Waste management facilities that produce compost from residual waste are also at risk from contamination by the hazardous substances released from mobile phones. Contamination of compost from mobile phones presents risk to those handling the .materials found in these products.
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